I'm going to allow myself some unrestrained optimism today and point out all the things the Cubs are doing right lately. I'll get to why things are the way they are after the list, so here we go-
Signs that all cylinders are beginning to fire
1) You come back to win 3 straight games, and then followed it up with a 5-1 victory. Three games with big innings helped the Cubs come back to beat the Phillies to win that series at home, then take the first two against the Rockies before shutting them down in game 3. Most of the year has been spent wallowing in hopelessness as the Cubs trail going into the late innings, but now with a lineup that has virtually no holes, scoring runs doesn't seem as difficult as it did before.
2) You bat around 4 times in 4 games. Since the Cubs gave Alex Gonzalez the boot in favor of someone who could actually hit, they have sent all 9 batters to the plate in an inning 4 times. A few weeks ago I railed on the Cubs for their all-or-nothing approach to offense, but it seems that now the Cubs have begun to master the invaluable skill of stringing hits together. Combine that with their home run power, and suddenly a lot more runs are scored.
3) Mark Prior pitches 6 solid innings of shutout ball. Prior hasn't recaptured his form entirely since returning from the DL and working past his tender elbow, but he sure looked sharp today, striking out 8 and accumulating a pitch count of 108, his highest yet this year. The rotation looks like everyone expected it to in spring training, and while its a little late, at least it's here.
4) You climb to a season-high 12 games over .500. The Cubbies finally surpassed their previous high of 11 games over, which they reached by sweeping the White Sox back in the beginning of July. They're way behind the Cardinals still, but they go head to head against the Giants and the Padres over the next 7 days, and can give themselves a considerable lead if they continue the hot streak.
5) Your pitcher drives in Paul Bako for an insurance run in the 9th. Up by 4 going into the top of the 9th against the Rockies today, I didn't expect much from the Cubs, who added 2 runs in the 7th. Instead, with two outs the Cubs weakest hitter in Paul Bako steps to the plate and hits a two-out infield single. Exactly 1 pitch later, pitcher Glendon Rusch doubles to left-center and drives Bako in to help pad his lead. Even the two weakest hitting guys on the team (I mean the pitcher's position, not Rusch specifically) are scoring runs, and that's the icing on the cake.
Now what's the reason for all of this? I won't lie and say Nomar had nothing to do with it, because anytime you add a 5-time All Star with a couple of batting titles to your roster without trading away a significant portion of your team, not only will he provide (3 RBI in 4 games), the rest of the team gets energized, as shown by the rallies, bat-arounds, and the 4 straight wins. You can't really disregard the fact that your best pitcher a year ago, Mark Prior, is finally healthy as well, and the rotation is finally ready. I believe Prior would have made the same type of start today without the addition of Nomar: would the Cubs have still won? That's up for debate, but it shows that the addition of Nomar plus a sharp, healthy starting rotation are two factors that are playing well off one another so far.
BUT, I won't get ahead of myself too much. The real test comes tomorrow, when Matt Clement takes the mound. Clement has gotten the worst run support of all Cub starters, and if the Cubs can rally behind Matt on the mound, they'll be in excellent shape.